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How Long Do Septic Tanks Last?

Putting in a septic tank, whether it is part of a new housing property or it is replacing an old system, can be an expensive proposition. This is because a septic tank tends to be large, it must be buried underground, and is a relatively complex system that requires maintenance over time. If you are purchasing a property that has an existing septic system, knowing how old it is and how often it has been used will be important factors in your decision on when to buy a new one.

Installing a new septic tank is a costly effort. This is why the more information you can gather, the better informed your decision will be.

Average Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of a septic tank will depend on a couple of factors, including what the tank is made from and what conditions has it undergone over the years. Septic tanks are generally made from steel, concrete, or plastic. The average life expectancy of a septic tank is as follows:

  • Steel Septic Tank: 20 to 30 Years Life Expectancy
  • Plastic Septic Tank: 40 Years Life Expectancy
  • Concrete Septic Tank: 40+ Years Life Expectancy

The lifespan assumes basic maintenance procedures have taken place. Plus, if the septic system itself has not been overloaded with too much groundwater, if no harmful chemicals have been flushed into the tank, and if only one or two people live in the home, then you may be able to extend the life of the system beyond the average lifespan.

However, even a good concrete septic tank with low usage and regular maintenance seldom lasts beyond a half-century, although there are exceptions. Do not consider your septic tank an exception unless it has been inspected by a professional.

A good septic tank that is properly maintained will last for at least 20 years under normal circumstances. For most, such systems will last 30 or more years with the proper maintenance. But there are other factors involved as well.

Factors that Shorten the Life of a Septic Tank

There are numerous factors that can shorten the life of your septic tank considerably. You should be aware of these factors, as they can play a large role in when you need to replace the system itself.

Flooding: One factor that you may have little control over is flooding. If the drainage system gets overwhelmed due to floodwater, or the pressure of the water infiltrates the drain field and backs up into the tank, then you may have issues with your septic system which will shorten its life. You may be able to prevent this if you locate the tank in an area that is not prone to flooding, such as on a rise where water drains away from the surface. This should be apparent before the tank is put into place, so speak to the septic installation company about how to limit the flooding potential.

Heavy Equipment: Smashing in a septic tank will shorten its life considerably, causing leaks to form which means a replacement will be necessary. Know the area where your septic tank is located and do not park or drive any vehicles or heavy machinery over it. It'’'s one thing to walk or mow over the tank with a push-mower, but it’s quite another to park a vehicle on top of it. Mark off the area where the septic tank sits and do not put anything heavy nearby. A little knowledge today can help you avoid accidents in the future.

Trees: Both trees and plants that have heavy root systems can break into the drainage pipes and even the tank itself. The roots are attracted by the nutrients, so you will want to keep the area of the septic tank free of any trees or plants that have deep root systems.

Factors that Lengthen the Life of a Septic Tank

It may seem that you face a rather daunting challenge in keeping your septic system operational. But the truth is that there are things you can do to both keep your septic tank functioning and lengthen its lifespan. What follows are a few tips that will help you maintain the health of the septic tank.

Regular Pumping: Depending on the number of people in the home and other factors, you should have the septic tank pumped every five years. You may have to decrease that time depending on several factors, such as if you have a large number of people living in your home. Regular maintenance is essential for the septic tank to last a long time.

Limit Disposal: Food particles, chemicals, and grease will shorten the life of the tank because they build up the sludge at the bottom of the tank. The less food, grease, and chemicals that you send down the drainage pipes, the easier it will be for the septic tank to process waste. Separate such items and send as little as possible down the drainage system. Admittedly, avoiding food particles may be difficult, but there is a big difference between a few scrapes and particles of food going down the drain and a large amount on a regular basis for years on end.

Treatment Products: You can purchase products at a local retail store that help the septic tank to convert the wastewater into clean water for the drain field faster. Such products break down the unwanted materials inside the tank without causing damage or harm. For homes with one or two people living inside while having a large septic tank outside, this may extend the life of the tank considerably. You should pour the recommended amount of these products into the septic tank on a regular basis. Be sure to first discuss this with your septic contractor and/or review your septic system's owner manual.

Septic Maintenance

It should be noted that even employing the best methods to lengthen the life of your septic tank may not always work. That is because there are unexpected factors that cannot be controlled even with the best maintenance procedures in place. Having said that, with proper maintenance, most issues with septic tanks that cause their replacement can be avoided or at least delayed for a long time. For further reading on this subject, visit Septic Tank Maintenance.

Your septic tank is just like any other part of your home. It will need care and maintenance over time to maintain its functionality. A little work today may save you from an expensive repair or replacement bill tomorrow.


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